The fight for Father’s Day


June 1, 2020

After a slow start, the holiday remains as relevant as ever, even during a pandemic.

by Michelle Icard

Father’s Day is just around the corner, and it’s bound to be unlike any other, considering the current state of the world. It’s okay, though. Father’s Day can take it. A brief look into the fascinating history of the holiday shows that Father’s Day knows how to put up a fight for its place on the calendar. 

Dads were first given their day in 1910 in Washington state. Just two years earlier, Mother’s Day had emerged as a new family holiday, inspiring Sonora Smart Dodd, daughter of a widower raising six children, to honor dads the same way. She gathered support for her idea by rallying local churches, the YMCA and small-business owners to mark the day in celebration of all fathers do for their families. It was a great start with noble and warm-hearted intentions, but a slow one nonetheless. 

Just as the idea started gaining traction outside of Washington state, Robert Spero, a New York City children’s radio entertainer, pushed for an end to both Father’s Day and Mother’s Day in favor of Parents’ Day. With an early emphasis on co-parenting, Spero said his holiday would show “that both parents should be loved and respected together.” 

Spero’s movement gained surprising momentum through the 1920s and 1930s, but alas, along came the Great Depression, and marketers did what marketers do best. Families were encouraged to support hardworking bread earners with recognition in the form of a new tie, pipe, cardigan or, at the very least, a card expressing how much they cared. 
     With that, Father’s Day got the boost it needed. World War II raised sentimentality and gave Americans yet another reason to share heartfelt messages of appreciation with fathers, and, economically at least, the holiday caught on. But while Mother’s Day became a national holiday in 1914, a mere four years after it was introduced, Father’s Day wasn’t made official until 1972 by President Richard Nixon. It wasn’t just a long ride to becoming a holiday, it was a bumpy one. 

Now what? Now, we keep it up.

So here we are in 2020, year of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Father’s Day has a lot working against it this year. Our daily lives are characterized by uncertainty, frustration and isolation … not exactly big celebration vibes out there right now. Plus, our communal go-to ideas for dads (you know — live music, sporting events and big barbecues) are likely not going to be happening this year. Lastly, plenty of families have been with their dads a lot lately. Do fathers really want more family time right now? It isn’t exactly the draw it once was. Ironically, when Father’s Day was gathering momentum in the early 20th century, a letter to the New York Times called for a national Home Day instead for mothers, fathers and children to simply celebrate being together. Oof. We’ve had plenty of those lately. Should we just … skip it?

Given our circumstances, you might feel tempted to throw in the towel or phone it in this year. Dad doesn’t need much anyway, right? Lordship over the remote. His choice of takeout. A new picture frame for his work-from-home desk. 

Poor dads. Maybe I sound like Sonora Dodd, but, now more than ever, we should look for reasons to show our loved ones how much we appreciate them.

Ask the dad you know what he really wants this year. His answer might be different from the past or from what you expect. I asked some dads about this recently and was impressed by the number who said Father’s Day is one of their favorite days of the year. Even this year. All had different reasons: Some like complete freedom of choice for the day. Others enjoy spending time with their own dads. Some want time alone. Others relish the opportunity to force a hangout with their kids on their own terms. 

Advertisers try to make us feel that Father’s Day is one-size-fits-all, because that makes it easier for them to have the one gift to please all dads, but it’s not. The best gift is exactly what the dad in your life wants this year, and only he knows what that is. Perhaps the best memory you’ll give the dad in your life is the time you take and the conversation you have when you ask him what he really wants and needs on this unique and historical Father’s Day. 

Happy Father’s Day to all. Enjoy your celebrations.  SP

Michelle Icard is an author in Charlotte. She runs local programming for middle schoolers and their parents, including leadership camps for girls and boys and conferences for girls and their moms. Learn more about her at

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